Thursday, 7 July 2011

University open days

Over the last couple of weeks I have been lucky enough to accompany my daughter to five university open days. Ok, so that doesn't make me an expert in running an open day, but it has opened my eyes to what can be achieved by making potential students feel welcome, and what might put them off! Let's have a look at some of the things which really impressed me about the open days I've been to. Obviously, I'm not going to "name and shame" the institutions, just point you in the direction of what I think were the good things, and possibly what were the not so good things! In no particular order, these are thoughts just as they came to me!
  • Student Ambassadors - are vital to the sucess of the open day! Having lots of ambassadors is essential (as long as they are not huddled around together in groups!) as this proves that current students are interested in promoting the university, and by implication that the university is worth applying to. It also gives the prospective students someone to address with any queries they don't feel they can ask of staff! Dress the ambassadors in a prominent colour t-shirt and station them at strategic points: at the railway station, at the bus station, various points en-route to the university - no matter if it's a straight route from public transport to your university - and position them everywhere on campus or outside university buildings.
  • Put up clear signs from major routes into your town or city to help those who are driving in. Sat nav codes on your website are very handy, as are the obvious links to maps of the major routes, showing where your university is situated.
  • Ample route and building signs on your campus are also a must, and work well in conjunction with your student ambassadors. These are also a must if your permanent signage is not too hot - you may well know your way around but a prospective student is unlikely to and may waste valuable time trying to find a specific location.
  • Plenty of pre-open day information is more than useful! Email the prospective student to make them feel welcome, even if all you're doing is sending them links to open day information on your website.
  • Provide a coherent set of welcome and informational lectures: cover student finance, UCAS admission procedures, student accommodation, student life, student careers & support. Even if a prospective student has heard the finance situation from a previous visit, others will not have done, so you are never going to be presenting to a small, disinterested audience!
  • Ensure, as far as possible, that the subject-specific lectures cover all the ground a prospective student is likely to want to know: admission criteria, course outline, amount of contact time, assessment methods, module choices, what your usp is, etc.. Also, if at all possible have said lecture presented by your most charismatic, engaging member of staff, whether that be the head of department, a lecturer, or a junior researcher; there's nothing like a lecture delivered with a bit of passion to sway a propective student's opinion!
  • Make sure that the general lectures are repeated throughout the day.
  • Be sure to co-ordinate across the university so that lectures are scheduled at such times to give people enough time to move between buildings.
  • Ensure that you provide big enough lecture rooms to accommodate all the people who want to attend the lecture! There's nothing more disheartening than having closely planned your day to be told that the particular lecture you've scheduled into your limited timetable, and turned up for is full!
  • If at all possible, open up some of your other buildings! Most open day visits seem to be centred around one or two buildings which doesn't give prospective students much of insight into your university. A good one is to open the subject staff common rooms, where staff can be on hand to answer questions, displays of current work can be exhibited and refreshments provided.
  • If something unexpected should happen (for example the fire bell rings) do try and let people know what's happening, especially if you are going to pick up the talks where you left off or if you are going to continue with the scheduled events at the scheduled times.
  • Where possible provide tours to and of the university accommodation; open up a few rooms if possible so the youngsters get a feel for what it might be like to live in uni halls.
  • Another great idea is to offer campus tours, even if you you don't offer to actually go into buildings, it's still good for people to be aware of how big/hilly/old/new etc. your campus is.
  • Make sure your library offers tours to prospective students!
  • Have a central exhibition area where all departments and services can display their wares and answer questions.
  • Clearly identify all your eating establishments; many people have travelled a long way to get to you and need to eat and drink!
  • Have your bookshop open and giving a discount to any purchases made on the open day!
  • Get subject staff to provide prospective students with a booklist! The avid readers will love that!

If you have any other great ideas for open day visits, or any bugbears, do leave a comment in the comments box.

Thanks for reading!


  1. This rings many bells, having just done a series of very similar visits. I would certainly endorse the importance of having subject staff on hand (we gave a huge thumbs down to the institution which couldn't field a single member of teaching staff from the school my daughter was interested in joining, so there was noone to present about the subject or to answer her questions). We went to all the libraries (of course!) and were welcomed, but it would have been more impressive if they weren't so EMPTY of students. In some places we were the only people there (apart from duty staff). I'm afraid the places that came out best were the ones where the sun was shining and there was free coffee/biscuits on arrival!

  2. So difficult to get the timings right! Have to avoid AS exams and uni exams, probably have to avoid having it when ALL the students are there, so only leaves towards the end of term or afterwards, which makes places like the library a ghost town! Not a true reflection of what really goes on!

  3. Fantastic blog......Ive graduated from Coventry University, UK. The open days were great there , near the University Cathedral. I am working as a marketing officer for one of the colleges in Goa presently. The inputs from this blog were really helpful.
    I strongly feel the study staff and placement unit are the most important parts of an open day.

    The libraries, campus, facilities are off course some of the most important showcase items of the college/university.

    Vasant Hede

  4. Thanks Vasant! Coventry was actually one of the places we visited, and I was impressed with the little stalls for each faculty with the student ambassadors wearing faculty colours! However, our 2nd visit was less happy: the lecturer started his talk 15 minutes earlier than scheduled so we didn't get to hear it even though we were there on time! I agree that faculty staff and the departments are most important, but one should always make good use of central services, especially if they are impressive! Good luck with the job! Lynne